ADDISON – Paul Butler’s wake-up call came when his wife was going to have hip-replacement surgery.
Knowing the kind of care she would need, he wondered whether he’d be able to lift her up if she needed him to or run up and down the stairs in their home to bring something to her. These simple things worried him, and he knew he needed to change his own health in order to support his wife’s.
It was December 2005 when Butler had his “aha” moment, and at that time, the Itasca resident weighed 315 pounds. Since then, Butler has lost about 150 pounds, and he continues to live a healthy lifestyle through the support of TOPS, an organization dedicated to helping people “take off pounds sensibly.”
“The support that they give to people who want to be healthier is amazing,” Butler said.
While TOPS is a national nonprofit organization, it has many chapters in the Chicago area, including two in Addison and two in Bensenville. Butler is the co-leader of a group that meets Thursday evenings at the Addison Park District.
It includes about 20 people from Addison, Itasca, Bartlett, Glendale Heights, Union, Villa Park and West Chicago.
Every week, its members gather to measure their progress toward their goal weight, which must be approved by a doctor, and share stories about the trials and tribulations they experience along the way.
The environment is a relaxed one, and members’ weights are kept private. Their peers only know how much they have lost or gained week to week.
At a recent TOPS meeting, the laughs and jokes among its attendees were plentiful, displaying the type of camaraderie its members say keep them coming back year after year, and for some, it’s been 20 years or more.
One such member is Sandy Smith of Itasca, who has lost 65 pounds since joining TOPS more than 20 years ago.
While she’s undergone knee surgery twice, she’s found ways to stay active, especially now that she’s retired from teaching at a school in Lombard.
TOPS has helped her to keep track of her eating too, and she faithfully records her caloric intake every day.
This type of consistency encouraged by TOPS has helped Smith to be successful, she said.
In addition to the fellowship that occurs at chapter meetings, there also is an educational component. Sometimes, healthcare professionals will come talk to the group, or members will share health-related articles they’ve found.
Addison resident Judy Graf, a 20-year member of TOPS, said she could write a book about what she should and shouldn’t eat.
The No. 1 thing that makes TOPS successful, she said, is the support.
“They’re very understanding of all the things I’ve had going on,” Graf said.
When trying to make a change for the better, it helps to be surrounded by people with similar goals, Butler said.
After his own wake-up call, Butler participated in a liquid diet with the Alexian Brothers Health System that helped him to shed many of the 150 pounds he has lost. He started becoming more active and now walks about 5 miles, five days a week.
A large part of why people eat is actually emotional or social, he said, adding that’s true for him too.
Butler joined TOPS 1.5 years ago, and being part of the weekly group has helped him to battle those tendencies to overeat.
“It reminds you that you want to be the person you have pictured in your mind,” Butler said.